Legacy Amendment funding faces lingering questions

Report issued from legislative auditors

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Some of the basic parameters about spending up to $7 billion in state funding are a bit fuzzy. Office of Legislative Auditor reports coming out Wednesday, Nov. 30 dealing with Legacy Amendment funding — dollars from the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2008 that could amount to more than $7 billion by 2034 — suggest that there’s ongoing concerns with the sales-tax-derived funding.
Some basic unresolved questions are whether the funding, amounting to some $300 million a year, will actually achieve its intended results. Further, auditors conclude it’s not clear how to comply with the “supplement not substitute” provision in the amendment, a provision aimed at guaranteeing that legacy funding is not used as a substitute for regular funding.
Other concerns, such as involving conflicts of interest, continue to persist, the auditors said.
Legacy dollars flow through various groups — the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the Clean Water Council — and auditors note the functions and makeup of the groups differ.
“Ultimately we did not find a basis that they all should be handled the same way,” said  Judy Randall, a legislative auditor.
“We didn’t quite get there,” said Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles when asked by a lawmaker whether the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council couldn’t serve as a model for the all various legacy groups.
But just because the concerns aren’t clear and are complex, they can’t just be ignored, Randall stressed of audit findings.
Indeed, some elements of legacy funding are subjective, auditors suggested.
For instance, media criticism has been voiced over $2,914 being paid in legacy arts and cultural heritage funding to a person to develop an oral history of psychiatry in Minnesota and $14,000 being paid to document a Cold War Nike missile base in St Bonifacius.
Legacy Funding Committee Chairman Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, quipped that letting the Legislature decide the relevance of such projects would be “quite an adventure.”
Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, voiced concern that legacy dollars could become co-mingled with regular budget dollars as to become hard to track. “I do fear that’s what begun to happen,” she said.
Other lawmakers expressed concern over the use of legacy funding being used to address clean water projects.
Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Claire Robling, R-Jordan, questioned whether too much funding was being spent on monitoring water quality, too little on actually improving it.
Some recommendations made by the auditors in terms of the “supplement not substitute” provision are that lawmakers should establish a process to review historical funding levels for programs and projects proposed for legacy funding — something like a fiscal note that often accompanies legislation could be developed, they suggest.
Auditors also call for state agencies and other legacy-fund recipients to document how they are complying with the supplement not substitute provision.
A financial audit of legacy funding concluded that internal controls over legacy dollars were generally adequate, recipients generally complying with legal requirements, though identified some weaknesses.